Rising gas prices trap lobstermen
March 2nd, 2012
04:30 PM ET
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Dave Casmi has made his living fishing for lobsters along the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, for 40 years. But he and other lobster fishermen are asking themselves if it’s even worth untying their boats from the dock anymore.

In today’s market, they are suffering from an economic triple whammy: High fuel prices mean it’s more expensive to trap lobsters, and the recession finds fewer people splurging on their catch. Plus, a lobster’s market value begins depreciating the moment it’s caught.

“I’m getting what I got 15 years ago,” he said, referring to the amount distributors are paying for his catch. “Just how long would you spend $3 to make $4?”

The situation is particularly painful for Casmi and his fellow lobstermen due to their inability to mark up the price to cover the cost of fuel: Distributors aren’t going to pay more for a product that is selling less. And because lobster needs to be sold shortly after being caught, Casmi can't hold out for higher bidders.

“It’s like we’re being held hostage” he said.

Higher up the lobster supply chain, Casmi’s woes are being echoed.

Dave Madden, a salesman at Cape Cod-based Lobster Trap Co., said he and other distributors have to pay fuel surcharges to transportation companies shipping the lobsters sold to restaurants and markets around the world.

“We have to mark up,” Madden said. “We operate on very small margins.”

The result is higher prices for seafood in local restaurants such as Boston’s B&G Oysters.

Stephen Oxaal, the head chef at that high-end restaurant, said the $35 roasted lobster tail is more expensive than usual - thanks to higher fuel prices.

At the current price of marine diesel - $3.74 a gallon at the State Pier in New Bedford, Massachusetts – Dave Spencer said he will pay $50,000 more to fill up his 85-foot lobster boat than he did last year.

A small business such as his can’t sustain that kind of profit loss, said Spencer of Newport, Rhode Island.

Nevertheless, Spencer will still incur the higher costs because he has other people depending on him.

“I’ve got a crew to think about,” he said, “a crew that has families to feed.”

Just don’t expect those families to feed on the fruits of their labor anytime soon.

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Filed under: Aquaculture • Business and Farming News • Fishing • News

soundoff (23 Responses)
  1. Clarisa Auringer

    The first factor that makes up the price of gas at your local station is crude oil suppliers. This makes up about 59% of the price you pay for gas and it is determined by the world’s oil-exporting countries, particularly OPEC, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. The amount of crude oil that these countries produce determines the price per barrel of oil.:^

    Take a look at all of the freshest write-up at our blog

    May 8, 2013 at 12:45 am |
  2. carissa

    I agree with christine as well. Welcome to the club fisherman! The average worker is not getting the inflation boost we deserve. I pay double for cake mix now, and gas. But my raise for the last 3 years has been, guess what? A big fat 0!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    March 6, 2012 at 1:10 am |
  3. Danny

    "OMG I can't go out cuz I don't have gas." Put a sail up already. Duh.

    March 6, 2012 at 12:56 am |
  4. cpc65

    "Sir, that man ate all of our shrimp, plus two plastic lobsters!" ~ "Argh! That be no man but a remorseless eatin' machine."

    March 6, 2012 at 12:00 am |
  5. Blackbeered

    Maybe someone can explain how $3 at the pier ends up at $132 at the fish market.

    And I've been to the docks offering $20 apiece for a couple of selects only to be turned down.

    Somethings not right with this story.

    March 5, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • ForReal

      Don't oversimplify, and where did you get the $132 number from?

      There is obviously a chain of buyers/sellers that the lobster navigates from the boat to your plate, and if you use a quick
      search you could find something like this:


      which states:

      Starting with a hypothetical boat price of $4 per lb., in theory:

      The first buyer: A wharf buys product from fishermen paying $4 per lb. adds between 50 cents and 75 cents per lb. to the boat price for a crate run and sells to a trucker.

      The second buyer: The trucker, adds 50 to 75 cents to cover his costs for tolls, the vehicle, and driver, and his profit, etc., and delivers the lobster to Boston or New York where he sells to:
      The third buyer: a large wholesaler, who grades out culls, cracked shells, etc., adds 75 cents per lb. for chix and quarters and $1.25 per lb. for halves, and sells to:

      The fourth buyer: a smaller wholesaler, who adds 75 cents per lb. and sells to local markets and restaurants, or sells to:

      The fifth buyer: another smaller wholesaler or fish market or the restaurant, who adds the center of plate cost of 75 cents per lb. and up to the customer who eats the lobster.

      And when something like fuel cost goes up, so does the operating cost of every link in the chain.

      March 5, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  6. sharon

    SOOOO sick of New England fisherman complaining about the government regulations, prices, etc. If it were up to them, they'd fish out the entire ocean. Guess what- just cuz your family has done it for 100 years doesn't mean we all have to fund the industry. It's called supply and demand AND maintaining the ocean and its species. FIND ANOTHER JOB and quit complaining!!!

    March 5, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
  7. One solution

    You can buy two 1 1/2 pound lobsters online from a well-known seafood restaurant for the stunning price of $85.95.

    If lobstermen only rake in $4 each, I'd venture to say that the answer for them is to investigate selling direct and cutting out the middlemen.

    March 5, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  8. Scargosun

    Um, yeah. Sailing? Really? For one, the boats they have are outfitted with machinery that is essential to their industry. Running that machinery takes a motor. It's not just about the fuel going out and coming in. Secondly, if you know how to sail, you know that the extra weight of a catch would cause problems not to mention the weight of the equipment used. Thirdly, it would actually cost MORE for them to use a sailing vessel considering it would take more time in and back AND the catch would suffer because of the longer time it would take. I am not sure anymore why it stuns me that people don't think their suggestions through.

    March 5, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • Aubrie

      How the heck do you think it was done BEFORE the inboard or outboard motor??? I've ridden on old sailing lobster boats in Maine, so don't tell me they didn't do it..... Yes, you may have a smaller catch, but without the cost of fuel, you would retain more of the profit.

      March 5, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
  9. isitbetter

    Echo bb: Wind is free! Use of sail is the way to go. No need to be dependent on the high cost of hydrocarbons...

    March 5, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  10. bb

    Lobster fish the old way – by sailing vessel. Fuel costs are zero. Sure you'll spend a few hours more at sea, but thats it.

    March 5, 2012 at 11:59 am |
  11. christine

    I hate to make it sound like I have no empathy for the lobster guys – but guess what? Nearly everyone else is in the same boat (so to speak). Wages are stagnant across the board (Wall Street and oil company executives excluded); prices for everything keep rising but we aren't bringing in any more money. Lobster fisherman, this problem is not unique to you.

    March 5, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • Time Bandit

      Agreed christine, I'm with you. I used to have a good paying job working with the Navy, I was laid off when funding ran out. Three months after, I found another job making less than I was making. I was in that job for six months, got laid off again when the housing market tanked. Two months after that I found another job, this job I am making what I was making 12 years ago ($25k-1/2 what I was making when I worked with the Navy). The job I have offers no health insurance, I am trying to get a better job but not having a college degree is being used against me. Even though I have 30+ years work experience, they don't care. For now, I will stay where I am, hope for the best and pray I don't have any medical issues arise (I wouldn't have a way to pay if I did). As it is, I have no pre-existing health issues, don't smoke and don't drink..insurance carriers are using my height/weight ratio as an excuse to deny me coverage. Amazing!

      March 5, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
  12. Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

    Murderers! Gas prices are Obama's Fault!

    and other typical rants. insert here -->

    March 2, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • mzagee

      Really???? Gas prices are NOT President Obama's fault. Do your research!! It is the fault of speculators who cause gas prices to rise so that they can profit from it. Congress won't pass laws to stop this. SO, blame Congress and the specualtors, not the President!!!

      March 5, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
      • Txjack

        And who do those speculators work for?
        The US oil companies.
        Obama let’s gas go unregulated.
        So they do whatever they want.

        Whenever gas prices go up .25 cents a gallon a day in the US they only go up .1 cent in Europe.
        Gas is regulated like a commodity there not running rampant like it is here.

        Who bought the election for Obama. George Soros.
        Saros owns Brazilian Oil company Petrobras.
        Obama gave Petrobras a 2 billion $ loan With Chinese borrowed money.

        So who is really at fault here..

        March 5, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
      • Ivan

        It is Obama's Congress.

        Obama is a lar and thief.

        March 5, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
        • CH3ROK33

          And Obama made it rain everywhere today. Why can't he just make it rain when it is convenient and only fall where it is needed? After all, he is President. I bet a republican president could handle that....

          March 5, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
      • massbytes

        I think the post was sarcastic.

        March 5, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
      • addison

        Ummm and how do speculators get the price to rise? Use war threats, or instability or other "news" to push up prices. Do you think if Obama actually had a plan to solve energy issues that then the speculators would not have issues to raise prices. Do you think if Obama actually did something in the Middle East to reduce uncertainty such as with Iran, or allow a pipeline to texas from Canada that the pressue then would be for prices to fall not rise. Obama's decisions almost seem like he wants prices to rise as if it is a goal of this administration. Oh and I voted for Obama so please do not call me a tea party or any other typical names you are called soon as you state a fact that is not positive. I am so disappointed in him and I really thought he would bring positive change. No we got change.. nothing good.

        March 5, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
    • Truth™@JDizz

      Not sure I have ever mentioned this, but I think Obama is a liberal stooge.

      March 5, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • Monstah Lobstah

      LMAO! Nice job stirring up the pot. Talk about lemmings....

      March 6, 2012 at 7:38 am |
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